“Housing is a vital economic resource and abusers will seek to control a victim’s ability to acquire housing, access their housing and maintain their housing.”
Nicola Sharp-Jeffs is the founder of Surviving Economic Abuse – the only UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of economic abuse and transforming responses to it.
In this short interview, Nicola explores why it is important for housing professionals to understand the dynamics of economic abuse and how to identify and support victims.
Nicola Sharp-Jeffs is speaking on economic abuse at Housing 2020’s award-winning Fringe on 2 September at 13:15-13:45.
Register your free place here.
Abusers seek to deplete the personal, social and economic resources of victims to isolate them from support and make them dependent – unable to leave and rebuild their lives independently. Economic abuse involves them using behaviours (including control, exploitation and sabotage) to stop their partner from acquiring, using or maintaining economic resources.
Economic abuse is broader than financial abuse since it encompasses everything that has economic value - from food and clothing, to transportation and housing, not ’just’ money and finances. For example, an abuser might stop their partner from going to work and accessing an income, they may insist that assets are put in their name and they may coerce their partner into debt.
Housing is a vital economic resource and abusers will seek to control a victim’s ability to acquire housing, access their housing and maintain their housing. They might do this through, for example, spending money put aside for rent/saying they are paying the rent when they are not doing so, changing the locks to the property, insisting their name is put on the tenancy and causing damage to the property.
Economic abuse can be particularly difficult to spot, but common warning signs include rent arrears and persistent requests for repairs to the property. Housing professionals are in a unique position to spot these signs and reach out to tenants. Lack of access to economic resources i.e. income and accommodation is the primary barrier to leaving an abuser and the primary reason some victim-survivors will return. Without economic stability, it is difficult to be physically safe since the victim has no means to leave the person who is harming them.
Housing professionals can be an important ’touch point’ for survivors. Through training, they can understand the dynamics of abuse and recognise warning signs such as rent arrears and also patterns in relation to these – for instance, did arrears start after a partner moved in/a new relationship began?
In one research study, 63% of victim-survivors had received a section 8 eviction notice due to arrears. Income teams may notice that a tenant cannot answer questions related to their finances, perhaps when working out a budget because their partner is in control of income and bills. Or their income and expenditure may seem strange – they may be buying food on credit cards, yet paying for things for their partner that don’t appear to be a priority They may also be hesitant for their partner to be contacted because they are fearful of the reaction. Alternatively, they may not engage because the abuser is intercepting their post, monitoring emails etc. It might be that one member of the household is well turned out in designer clothes, whilst their partner and children wear cheap clothes and don’t have money for ’luxuries’ such as a haircut.
Housing professionals can help victim-survivors regain economic stability, supporting them to maintain their housing and writing off arrears wherever possible to maximise their income. This might also involve pursuing the abuser instead. Through training, professionals can ensure that they do not inadvertently place victim-survivors at greater risk/reinforce perpetrator narratives i.e. that the victim is not very good at managing money.
They can help build confidence and self-esteem and provide the victim with an alternative way forward, simply through believing and supporting them. This may involve sharing information on benefits they are entitled to. Economic stability underpins physical safety, so responses to economic abuse should be treated as a priority - it is in no way a ’lesser’ form of abuse. Support can also be provided in helping a survivor rebuild their life, perhaps through helping them access essential items such as white goods and furniture.
The Westminster Government has just reintroduced the Domestic Abuse Bill which recognises economic abuse for the first time within legislation. However, a number of policies inadvertently undermine this recognition. These include joint benefit claims being paid into one bank account via Universal Credit and having to wait 5 weeks to access benefits.
Similarly, the no recourse to public funds rule means that individuals without indefinite leave to remain cannot access public funds at all. Surviving Economic Abuse also has concerns about Government proposals to strengthen the section 8 eviction process, especially in relation to ground 8 since victims of economic abuse are more likely than the general population to be in arrears.
Nicola Sharp-Jeffs is speaking on economic abuse at Housing 2020’s award-winning Fringe on 2 September at 13:15-13:45. Nicola will be joining speakers across three-days of hard-hitting content on the Fringe, covering climate change, mental health, #metoo, county lines, furniture poverty and more.
Register your free place here.